“…in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” Exodus 32:34
Most of Hebrews 8 is a quote from Jeremiah 31, a passage which promises a new Covenant with Israel, one in which God would not write His laws on tablets of stone but on the hearts of His people. Hebrews refers to an earlier event to explain an imminent one, the approaching end of the Old Covenant. The New Covenant had made the first one obsolete, which is why the writer of Hebrews refers to Jeremiah to describe the superiority of the high priesthood of Christ. The problem is that few preachers and teachers explain that Jeremiah himself is referring to an earlier event to explain an imminent one.
…every “new” Covenant was part of a process of cutting away the flesh. As in the Garden, the flesh would be cut to the bone, finally exposing the foundation for a new city, the Bride of Christ.
There are many “new” Covenants in the Bible. The shedding of blood to cover Adam’s sin was in fact a new Covenant. The institution of animal sacrifice allowed the continuation of human life. But the sacrifices did not annul the original Covenant. They were a temporary measure, a Covenant made within the Adamic Covenant.
Likewise, the Covenant with Noah was made within the modified Adamic Covenant. It still encompassed “all flesh,” as well as substitutionary animal sacrifices, but the history of mankind was narrowed to one faithful man and his offspring. The possibility of a global judgment was removed, but the curse of death remained.
Circumcision was another “new” Covenant, and it was made within the Noahic one, but this time it split humanity into Jew and Gentile. The Mosaic Covenant was made with all Israel, yet its ministry focus was with a single house of Israel, the tribe of Levi. Every subsequent Covenant was made “within” the earlier ones, and although it never wiped out the obligations or curses of those Covenants, it provided a continuation of life through substitutionary bloodshed. When, at the council of Jerusalem in Acts 15, James spells out the requirements for Gentile believers, he refers to their obligations regarding “flesh” under the Covenant with Noah, one which was superseded as far as Jews were concerned, but not as far as Gentiles were concerned. Of course, the coming of Christ and the new rite testifying to circumcision of heart, made both circumcision and uncircumcision of the flesh redundant.1If we let the “Covenant theology” of the Scriptures shape our own, rather than reworking the Scriptures to fit our preconceived ideas of “Covenant membership,” infant baptism is an idea that simply cannot be entertained. This rite is out of step with the actual progression of Covenants, and the move from external to internal law (judicial maturity) in the Scriptures.
But until that point, every “new” Covenant was part of a process of cutting away the flesh. As in the Garden, the flesh would be cut to the bone, finally exposing the foundation for a new city, the Bride of Christ.
(Chart from Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key, 234.)
The Davidic Covenant was a promise of greater glory, but also a narrowing of focus, a shift from one priestly Israelite tribe to the kingly lineage of one man. Under Ezra, the genealogical requirement was expanded from the members of the priesthood to every Jew (prefiguring the priesthood of all believers) but the emphasis moved from the glory of a physical temple to an empire-wide Jew-Gentile temple of “flesh.”2See Esther in Ezekiel’s Temple. This is the context of Jeremiah’s prophecy: not the first century but the era of empires, a time of Jewish testimony throughout the oikoumene. Although the move was not from an earthly country to a heavenly one, it most certainly prefigured it. This “new Israel” was very different from the old one.
Just as the Covenant progressed from physical buildings to spiritual ones, so the focus moved from the outside to the inside, from the “external law” of the spoken word to the “internal law” of the Spirit,3See “Internal Law” in Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes. from words carved on stone to words carved on flesh. The removal (and possible “ascension”) of the Ark of the Covenant was an act of God. But in the big picture, this transformation is not something which happened in an instant, but a process occurring through a number of stages. Every new “giving of the Law” made the previous giving obsolete, yet each of these dispensations forms a pattern of “death and resurrection.” The law required the corroborated testimony of a minimum of two legal witnesses, and the law itself always comes as two witnesses. When Jeremiah speaks of a “new Covenant,” he refers to the requirement for a second set of tablets after Israel’s sin with the golden calf.
The only reason a new Israel came out of the wilderness is because God made a “new Covenant.” He had already prefigured this to their fathers through the giving of a second set of tablets to the nation after the sin with the golden calf. Between the first set and the second, the worshipers were executed under the testimony of two witnesses, the original tablets of Moses. The second set was, for all intents and purposes, a “new” Sinaitic Covenant.
Likewise, at a greater level, there was the initial (dual) giving of the Law at Sinai, and a second giving of the Law, hence the name Deuteronomy, which means “second law.” Between these two Covenants, the entire old generation was buried in the wilderness. She was consumed by God’s jealousy, as demonstrated to her on Sinai and in the destruction of the golden calf. So, the pattern found in the initial giving of the Law was a microcosm of the entire journey, with Numbers as the fiery “Pentecost” of the greater pattern. Old Israel thus became the golden calf incarnate, Egyptian idolatry carried as a household god in the hearts of fearful men and women.4See “God Gave Them Up” in Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes, 180-182.
Just as a “new Covenant” was required at Sinai because of Israel’s idolatry, so a “new Covenant” was again required because of Israel’s idolatry. This is how we must understand Jeremiah’s “new Covenant.” If we read the passage without prejudice, it is clear that he is referring not to the reunion of Jew and Gentile as believers in the body of Christ, the situation in the book of Hebrews. He is in fact referring to the reunion of the northern and southern kingdoms, the house of Israel and the house of Judah (v. 31), through the process of exile.
The division of kingdoms occurred within the division of circumcision, and these two “cuttings” certainly speak to each other. But they are not the same event.
So, the while author of Hebrews is referring to the reunion of Jew and Gentile through the death and resurrection of Christ, his proof was the historical fact of the reunion of Israel and Judah.5You might also notice that the first Babylon was priestly, the second kingly, and the final prophetic.
Just as the “new Covenant” in Christ is better than the “new Covenant” which restored Israel to the Land, so Jeremiah’s Covenant was better than the one made at Sinai. This becomes apparent when we compare the structure of his prophecy with the structure of the account of Israel’s idolatry in Exodus 32.
Creation – Moses delays on the mountain, and the people convince Aaron make a god (Sabbath)
Division – Aaron collects the plunder of Egypt from the people and “engraves” it into a calf (as a substitute for the “graven words.” (Passover)
Ascension – Aaron builds an altar and proclaims a feast (a kingly table) (Firstfruits)
Conquest – The people are made to drink it and are divided between the blessed and the cursed. The idolaters die the same day under the sword of the Levites (Atonement)6For discussion on the “cup of judgment,” see “Goblet of Fire” in Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.
Glorification – Moses offers himself in place of Israel for the sake of her future. But Israel’s death was only postponed (Booths – Shelter)
Ironically, the narrative follows the pattern of “Covenant renewal,” but some good does come of it. While the hearts of the idolaters were exposed, so were the hearts of the true “sons,” and the result of this judgment was a blessing upon the Levites for priestly service. Even here, in microcosm, we see the progress from external to internal law, from stoicheia to judicial maturity.
But the final word of the Lord, before he sent a plague upon the people, was that he would not forget this sin against Him, despite the deaths of the idolaters.
“But now go, lead the people to the place about which I have spoken to you; behold, my angel shall go before you. Nevertheless, in the day when I visit, I will visit their sin upon them.” (Exodus 32:34)
The Lord did indeed visit them. In the book of Numbers, the entire generation was condemned to death. But in Jeremiah, just as the final word of our Old Testament is a threat and the final word of the New is a blessing, so the final word here is not a curse but a blessing.
Creation – “Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, (Genesis – Ark)
Division – not like the covenant that I made with their fathers on the day when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, (Exodus – Veil)
Ascension – my covenant that they broke, though I was their husband, declares the Lord. (Leviticus – Bronze Altar: death)
But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the Lord: (Table: promise)
Conquest – And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord. (Joshua – Priest and People, Land and Womb)
Glorification – For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.” (Judges – Shekinah)
Jeremiah’s prophecy is not a prediction of the New Covenant, but a step on the way towards it. Judgment begins at the house of the Lord. Israel had to be reunited, restored and forgiven that the same blessing might eventually flow to all nations.
References [ + ]
|1.||↑||If we let the “Covenant theology” of the Scriptures shape our own, rather than reworking the Scriptures to fit our preconceived ideas of “Covenant membership,” infant baptism is an idea that simply cannot be entertained. This rite is out of step with the actual progression of Covenants, and the move from external to internal law (judicial maturity) in the Scriptures.|
|2.||↑||See Esther in Ezekiel’s Temple.|
|3.||↑||See “Internal Law” in Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes.|
|4.||↑||See “God Gave Them Up” in Sweet Counsel: Essays to Brighten the Eyes, 180-182.|
|5.||↑||You might also notice that the first Babylon was priestly, the second kingly, and the final prophetic.|
|6.||↑||For discussion on the “cup of judgment,” see “Goblet of Fire” in Bible Matrix II: The Covenant Key.|
|7.||↑||The Lampstand pictures the opening of the Law. Just as 3000 died at the original Pentecost at Sinai (external law), so 3000 were saved at the last Pentecost in Jerusalem (internal law).|